The Lockdown of Bibi Lynch, Aged 54¼
How’s your Lockdown going? Baking brownies with your toddlers? Hot-kitchen tabling with your partner by day, then sobbing over Normal People with them by night? Joyfully Zooming your Sunday family lunch with your parents across town?
Drafting and re-drafting an email to my landlord re: a rent holiday — and deciding on names for the new voices in my head.
Lockdown Chez Alone is really really tough. People on Twitter and Facebook may be creating art, singing parodies and having all the Houseparty fun, but not me. I’m on my own and feeling it. I’m so blue I’d self-medicate and up my Sertaline — if only I knew for sure I could get more.
Let me give you a breakdown – apt – of my Lockdown weeks… On Mondays I do my BBC Radio Sussex and BBC Radio Surrey show — so I walk to the station and see Producer Ollie. Poor Producer Ollie is the only person I know IRL (Google it, grandma) that I’ll see in the week. So Poor Producer Ollie gets me talking at him for about an hour.
On Tuesdays I have therapy over Skype. So my poor Head Lady has me sobbing at her for about an hour. Well, 50 minutes, to be precise.
On Wednesdays I have a work conference call. It’s nice to hear voices I recognise.
And then that’s it. I see no-one else. No nanny… No cleaner… Totally on my own. Despite not yet finding my flattering FaceTime angle or light, I of course ‘see’ friends and family — but only a few a week. I’m not their priority. Why would I be? They’re busy Googling how to divorce their partner because they hate the way he eats.
I can’t even find love during Lockdown. Was Insta messaging one man. But those chats stopped when he told me he’d had his first Lockdown meltdown: ‘I’ve completely shaved’, he wrote. ‘And I don’t mean my head or beard…’
No love, no human touch. No hugs, no hand-holding. I hate this. I locked down in the second week of March and the last hug I had was on March 9th. Yes, so important I know the date. Touch makes us feel safe, calms us and releases the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. I miss the love hormone oxytocin.
And even though we can now go out more often to exercise, and to meet a friend, I don’t really want to. That reluctance is less about fear of catching/spreading the virus; and more fear that my fury at the 2-metre violators will give me an ulcer.
Seriously, going through Lockdown on my own is doing me no good. No good at all. I cry too much, sleep too much, eat too much. My anxiety is so heightened – with no-one to talk me down – I spend about an hour washing my keys, debit card, clothes, shopping, handbag if I’ve managed to make myself venture out.
Yes, it is difficult for most, but the struggles for couples and families are well-documented. For the singles, not so much. Which is a little galling as there are so many one-person households in the UK — just over 8 million (that’s 15% of the UK adult population), according to the Office for National Statistics.
I thought I’d be able to handle Lockdown because I’ve lived on my own most of my life and have worked from home for 26 years. But this is something different. Psychotherapist Joanna Miller explains: ‘Having our lives put on hold or abruptly interrupted in this way has held up a mirror to ourselves in ways we’re not used to. Our usual distractions from ourselves are not as available. We see who we are, what resources we have to fall back on, and who is important in our lives.’
And this impacts more on those alone? Miller: ‘I would say people living on their own are in a uniquely difficult position right now. We are social creatures; we are programmed from birth to connect with other people; our whole biological system (brain, body and central nervous system) is hard-wired to form attachments with others. We need other people. What’s the worst punishment inflicted on people in prison? Solitary confinement.’
Like many, I also have the delicious stress addition of Recession déjà vu to contend with. I’ve been here before. Not the horrifying pandemic, not that, thank God (we’ll talk about Him at a later date), but the forced isolation and loss of everything.
The Recession ruined my life. It took my career and financial security (freelance journalists were no longer used — or if they were, they were now paid £1 a month. I almost joke: rates for a 1,000-word piece went from sometimes £500, sometimes £1k, to £120 and some companies not paying anything at all. Work ‘for the exposure’, they say. To you, not your bank manager); my home (a psycho neighbour and Dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis were too much for my brain to deal with — so I sold my flat, put the profit into an account for my next deposit, but then had to live on that money because £1 a month wasn’t enough to survive on); my chance of having babies (I was single, too old for NHS IVF help, and my £1 a month went on a swab); and my mental health (hello antidepressants but goodbye much-needed – expensive – therapy).
So this awful, terrifying, unbelievable, crisis has brought this all back. Feels like PTSD. It took me 10 years to build a life again. And now this? Hard to not take it personally.
My friend Richard said something very clever about the Lockdown and why it’s such a struggle: that our ‘out of home’ lives give us the balance we need to enjoy our ‘at home’ lives. He’s right. And right now lots of people – alone or not – don’t have that balance. I don’t. My weeks are just reminders of what I don’t have and what I won’t have. And it’s heartbreaking. FaceTime and social media show me your homes, your families, your beautiful lives — and it stabs me every time.
(Social media also shows me pronatalism at play. Now? Seriously now is the time to play the ‘parent’ card? The ‘If I see another childless person saying how stressed they are…’ posts are appalling. Yes, home-schooling and working from home must be a nightmare. But one worse than the single person’s? Whatever issues you have, for most couples/families they are topped and tailed with company and love and protection and someone to share worries/fears/a debtors’ gaol cell with. This is not worse for parents. Honestly, some of you don’t know you’re born.)
With no distractions – no balance – I’ve gone back 10 years in grieving everything and everyone I wanted; everything and everyone I needed. And my very real fear is that won’t change now. It’s too late. I’m pretty tenacious but even I have to recognise The New Normal – with its predicted crushing recession and depression – most probably won’t be too kind to a single 54-year-old freelance renter.
Joanna Miller offers hope, though: ‘This crisis will bring up lots of stuff for people that might be confusing and disorientating. But I would advise people to take this opportunity to go with it as much as possible: to face head on what is happening and feel what it’s bringing up for you. Get to know yourself: write a journal, document your thoughts, start a dream diary… Try to do this with as much support as possible. Keep in touch with friends and family – find a counsellor – and try to keep talking. Any reaction you’re having is fine but however hard it may be at the moment, try not to go under — there are treasures to be found in these hidden depths.’
Hidden depths. I love that. I must hold that. Hold too that no-one I love is dying. Thank God. I know this could be worse.
Lockdown is pretty harsh for everyone, but let me tell you, doing it alone is no Government-sanctioned walk in the re-opened park.
Joanna Miller can be contacted here Jo.Miller@rockclinic.org.uk